Ornate or painted wood turtle
This is the Fascinating Wood Turtle main picture

If you have ever considered what species to get as your first pet turtle, then look no further than the fascinating wood turtle.

Wood Turtle

Below is everything you need to know about the Wood Turtle Species and how to take care of them as a pet.

About the Wood Turtle

Wood turtles are very tame and friendly around humans. Aquatic when they are hatchlings and still babies, and living for up to 40 to 60 years, the wood turtle has proven to be quite popular turtle enthusiasts and hobbyists.

Interestingly enough, they have also been known to travel extremely long distances. These friendly creatures have been known to travel really far at times.

Common Name: North American Wood Turtle

Type of Eater: Omnivore

Size: 14-20 cm

Distribution: North America

Unique Features: Pyramidal pattern on its upper shell

In fact, in New Jersey (USA) one wood turtle was observed to have walked more than a mile to forage within the span of about two months (this is actually quite far!).


Wood turtles often grow up to 5 to 9 inches in length and can weigh as much as 1.5 to 2 lbs.

Their defining feature is the deeply chiseled pattern found on the top of their shells, that looks a little bit like an array of stacked pyramids.

The shell of the wood turtle is also often has a keeled (raised) line that divides the carapace (shell) vertically. 

The wood turtle’s plastron (the undercarriage part of the shell) is usually yellow or brown colored with darker-colored splotches. There is a specific species called the Brown wood turtle which really encapsulates this brown color. The ornate wood turtle on the other hand sometimes has bright colors on its shell and skin.

Wood turtle’s limbs and head will often be black or dark brown with yellow, orange or red hues emanating from the underside of their throat and limbs.

Wood turtles, when fully grown will have a very thick tail and slightly webbed-feet, owing to the fact that they split time between their terrestrial and aquatic environments fairly evenly.


As their name suggests, wood turtles can often be found in….wooded, forested areas!

They are native to the northeastern part of the United States and southeastern portion of Canada. Basically throughout most of the central United States all the way to the Great Lakes.

As alluded to earlier, their habitat depends on the time of the year.

Along the summer months, you can often find wood turtles walking along foraging for food next to rivers and streams.

Wetlands, hayfields and forested habitats are their favorite places to reside.

During the winter months, they will hibernate underneath the water in large rivers and streams. Many times this will be next to or near submerged rocks or tree roots.

They really seem to enjoy any type of slow-moving, muddy or gravely type of freshwater.


Often times in nature you don’t get to choose what you eat.  This is definitely true for the wood turtle, who can be opportunistic eaters.

That said, as they grow older they tend to be more herbivorous. Their diet generally consists of munching on various plants, leaves and wild fruits and vegetables. If you have a pet wood turtle, I recommend feeding them this vegetable mix.

They can also be found hunting for insects, slugs, snails, tadpoles, and worms as well. They really seem to enjoy any type of slow-moving, muddy or gravely type of freshwater.

Special Caretaking Considerations

Because wood turtles like to split time between the water and the earth fairly evenly, great care should be had to ensure that their turtle tank exhibits both environments.

The standard rule of 10 gallons per inch of turtle shell holds true for the wood turtle.

As they are not a tropical species of turtle, their tank does not need to be kept above 80 F as other species do.  However, one should ensure that their environment is kept at a fairly steady temperature.

The two best methods to do this are through a water heater and a UV light-bulb. I have written simple, easy guides on which product is best for both, which can be found here:

Perhaps the best trait about the wood turtle is its temperament.

Compared to other pet turtles, they are rather tame and friendly, even if they are picked up and handled.

As such, they can make great pets. However, it is important to note that if there is more than one male turtle, they can become quite competitive and territorial in the water.

On land, they are quite friendly to each other and often stack upon each other when basking.

Animals such as hawks, eagles, and raccoons love to hunt them if they are kept in an outdoor environment. So, you will want to make sure that it is impenetrable from the outside.

Wood turtles are known as escape artists, and can quite easily climb over walls and dig under fences if they are not high or low enough!


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